Posts Tagged ‘Aircraft’

US Air Force Planned Orbital Warplane 20 Years Ago

July 4, 2020

I found this fascinating piece in the June 1999 issue of the popular science magazine Frontiers. Now 21 years old, it’s still acutely relevant now that Trump has said he’s going to set up a Space Force. The article has the headline Space Fighter Plane, with the subtitle ‘The US Air Force plans to become a Space Force.’ This states that the US air force was developing a fighter that could travel beyond the atmosphere into space. It runs

By the early 2010s US military pilots could be flying scramjet warplanes that can leave the atmosphere behind. Research by the US Air Force’s Air Vehicles Directorate suggests a trans-atmospheric vehicle (TAV) could be built as early as 2013. The intention would be to build a reconnaissance plane or bomber that could reach anywhere in the world within three hours. Flying at Mach 10 the TAV could piggyback a small spaceplane to the top of the atmosphere so it can fly the rest of its way into orbit.

The proposed vehicle is part of a shift in military thinking that will eventually see the US Air Force renamed the Aerospace Force. Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine reports that the Air Force is doubling its £100 million space-related research budget. One intention is to shift surveillance work carried out currently by aircraft such as AWACS to satellites equipped with advanced optics, space-based radar and hyperspectral imaging. To deliver such hardware into orbit the Air Force intends to build an unmanned reusable spaceplane called the Space Manoeuvre Vehicle (SMV).

The other thrust of Air Force research is to perfect space-based lasers that could in principle be used with space-based radar to target enemy ballistic missiles for ‘Star Wars’ operations, or even take out targets on the ground at the speed of light. The downside of such ‘space superiority’ tactics is that satellites will become a tempting target for other nations. Air force researchers aim to maximise satellite ‘survivability’ by flying clusters of satellites that work collectively and whose function can survive the destruction of individual units. (p. 37).

The article has two pictures of the projected space warplane, one of which is a computer simulation.

The caption reads: ‘The Air Force’s Space Manoeuvre Vehicle is the first in a series of planned military spaceplanes.’

As this image’s caption suggests, it appears to be a photo of the plane going through flight tests.

Trump doesn’t seem to be acting alone in demanding a US space force. It looks like he’s following a policy that was suggested at least twenty years, if not longer. I’ve got a couple of books dating from the 1980s about possible future wars in space. As for the space-based lasers, this was one of the projects in Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ programme, or the Space Defence Initiative as it was officially called. Which means in one form or another, Trump’s space force has been floating around the Pentagon for about forty years. ‘Star Wars’ was cancelled due to its massive expense and the fact that it became irrelevant after Glasnost’ and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now it seems that it’s been taken out of the cupboard of bad ideas and dusted out.

I see nothing wrong in transatmospheric spaceplanes, but let them be used for the peaceful exploration and colonisation of space. Trump’s Space Force violates international law and threatens to increase international tensions through the militarisation of space. In Arthur C. Clarke’sand Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, at the time the black monolith is found on the Moon, the Earth’s superpowers have ringed the planet with orbiting nuclear bomb platforms. The Cold War is becoming hot. Right at the end of Clarke’s book, the nuclear missiles are launched only to be stopped by the Star Child, the transformed astronaut Bowman, as he returns to the solar system from his journey to the home system of the monolith’s builders. The book ends with him pondering what to do about the crisis: ‘But he would think of something’.

Trump’s space force threatens a similar nuclear holocaust. But there will be no Star Child to rescue us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Hobby Rocket Based on NASA Mercury Capsule

June 27, 2020

A little while ago I put up a piece about a paper I had published several years ago in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (JBIS). This argued that as flying enthusiasts now attempt to recreate the experience of the great pioneering age of aviation by flying hang-gliders and microlight aircraft, so there is an opportunity for developing personal leisure rockets to take space enthusiasts on very short rocket trips in order to recreate some of the experience of real spaceflight. The rockets and the capsules don’t have to be very large – just enough to carry a single person or so to a height of a few thousand feet.

The problem I found when I was going through the equations for just such a vehicle is that the amount of fuel needed would make a rocket that was actually smaller than the capsule for the hobby ‘astronaut’. It would simply be impossible to follow the conventional rocket design in which the capsule stands atop the rocket, as it would simply overbalance. A few years ago I found a couple of videos from the Danish company, Copenhagen Suborbitals, who were also trying to develop their own, private spacecraft. They seemed to be trying to solve the problem by placing the rocket in front of the personnel capsule, like the arrangement of the escape tower on the manned NASA rockets – Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, which preceded the spaceshuttle.

I think the Mercury rocket would actually make a fitting design for such a small hobby rocket. They were the first American rockets which took men into space, after a series of unmanned, automated tests and then using chimpanzees. The capsules were small, designed for only one man, measuring 2 meters in diameter at their widest point, and about 3 meters tall, not counting the escape tower. The rocket that was initially used for them was the Redstone, and it was a Mercury-Redstone combination that took John Glenn in Friendship 7 on his epoch flight into space. This was a suborbital flight from one side of America to the other.

Mercury Restone rocket from The Space Traveller’s Handbook, Michael Freeman (London: Hamlyn 1979) 54.

Obviously, you don’t want a rocket as powerful as a Redstone, as even a suborbital, transcontinental trip would be too far. You’d only need an arrangement like the Mercury capsule and its escape tower. The escape towers on all the NASA manned rockets supported small, solid fuel rocket motors. If there was a problem with launch rocket, they were designed to carry the capsule to safety. Thus they were developed to take crewed capsules on the kind of very short trips of the kind that a crewed hobby rocket may also make.

Mercury capsule from the above book, page 56.

As a hobby rocket would not actually travel beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, it would not need retro-rockets and heat shield. It would still obviously need to carry a parachute, which would also still need to be above the rest of the capsule for the safety and stability of the hobby astronaut. I’m thinking of short trips that go up and straight down, with the capsule landing on its base. From the above illustrations it looks like the escape tower rocket minus its aerodynamic spike was 172 cm long and 43 cm wide. Looked at closely, it also seems that it had three nozzles arranged at equal spaces around its base, angled away from the body of the capsule to provide thrust while maintaining stability.

In addition to the problem of stability, the escape tower arrangement also poses some difficulty in that in order for the parachutes to open, the escape rocket itself must be jettisoned. This complicates the design of capsule. It struck me, however, that this could be solved if the single escape rocket was replaced by three solid rockets 572 cm long at the rear of the capsule, spaced at equal distances around its circumference in order to provide stability as shown in my sketch below.

If the rockets and their exhaust nozzles aren’t able to support the weight of the capsule, perhaps landing legs somewhat like those of the lunar module the Apollo astronauts used to land on the Moon could be added.

I’m not a rocket scientist, just an ordinary person who has read some of the science and physics involved, so don’t take this as solid fact. But I think the three rockets together would provide the same amount of thrust as a single rocket of three times the length of one of them. However, as the three rockets would fire together, the actual burn time would be shorter and so imagine it would ascend with a greater acceleration than a single, larger rocket would. But the speed reached, and thus the height after the rockets stopped firing, should be the same.

I think the design’s practical, though it would obviously have to undergo extremely rigorous tests before any aspiring hobby astronaut got anywhere near it. However, there is already a large hobby rocketry milieu. They largely fire off models rockets, but these can be quite large. One group of enthusiasts, according to the magazine High Power Rocketry, sent up a Minuteman missile one year. And last year an American built his own steam rocket which successfully took him a mile up. The man was an eccentric – he wanted to make the journey as he really believed the world was flat and wanted to see if it was round. But his rocket worked, although he lost his life making a subsequent flight. And if one man wants to make an amateur, hobby rocket flight, there are probably others. This is an idea waiting to be developed by professional aerospace technicians and engineers.

But if successful, it would create a new age of personal rocketry and interest and enthusiasm for real spaceflight, just like those flying hang-gliders and microlights are enthusiastic about conventional aircraft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chinese Scientists Working on Zero-Carbon Plasma Jet Engines

May 7, 2020

Here’s an interesting piece of science news, courtesy of yesterday’s I, for 6th May 2020. According to the article by Madeleine Cuff, ‘Plasma jet engine could be used for zero-carbon passenger flights’, Chinese scientists are working on a new type of jet engine in which conventional aircraft fuel would be replaced by plasma – ionized gas. The article on page 28 runs

Scientists have designed a new kind of jet engine that may be able to fly planes halfway around the world without using fossil fuels.

The prototype, dreamed up by Chinese engineers, relies on thrusters powered by compressed air and electricity to create a zero-carbon flight.

Flying is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Researchers have spent years hunting for low-carbon technologies to cut aviation’s carbon footprint, but finding a clean fuel source powerful enough to support a full-sized passenger jet has proved elusive.

A team at Wuhan university believes the answer lies in something called microwave air plasmas.

Beyond solid, liquid and gas, plasma is the fourth state of matter. It is a form of electrically charged gas, which – when activated – can cause surges of energy. 

Certain kinds of plasma jet thrusters have been used before to power Nasa probes in space, but they were not powerful enough to fuel flight within the Earth’s atmosphere.

The team believes it has solved this problem by designing a thruster that creates plasma from air mid-flight by compressing air into high pressures and using a microwave to charge it. If scaled up, it can create enough thrust to match a commercial jet engine, the team claims.

“Our results demonstrated that such a jet engine based on microwave air plasma can be a potentially viable alternative to the conventional fossil fuel jet engine,” said the study’s author, Dr Jau Tang.

More work is needed to improve the prototype’s efficiency before it can be tried in a full-sized jet and getting enough electricity to the engine to create plasma could also present a significant challenge.

But if it can work on a large scale, it could usher in an era of guilt-free flying.

The research is published in the journal AIP Advances.

I wonder how the engineers intend to force air into the jet engine at sufficient pressure that it can be ionised and used to generate thrust. At the moment conventional jet engines solve the problem of obtaining enough air to mix with the fuel through using powerful turbines that suck the air in. If this engine uses something similar and its powered by conventional aircraft fuel, although its carbon footprint will be low it still won’t be zero. Or perhaps the turbines would use extremely powerful electric motors.

It seems to me that the basic concept is sound, as last year a group of American aerospace engineers showed that ionized air around a plane could be used to provide extra lift and make the vehicle travel further. They did this by stringing electrically charged wires above and below the wings of a miniature aircraft, which was then launched into the air. The model did actually fly further than it normally would using conventional propulsion.

Obviously these plasma drives are still a long way off from coming into service and need a lot of development, but they do show a great deal of potential. Hopefully they will prove practical, and will usher in an age of air transport, where the carbon emissions will be greatly reduced, if not zero.

Is This the Most Insulting Comment Aliens Have Said to an Abductee?

April 29, 2020

I’ve just finished reading Dr. David Clarke’s The UFO Files, a history of UFOs in Britain from the phantom airship scares of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to the abduction experiences from the 60s onwards, the 70’s craze created by Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, right up to the years immediately preceding the book’s publication in 2009. The book was written to accompany the release of the government’s files on UFOs by the National Archives, and is naturally based on the records compiled by the MOD, the Air Ministry, RAF and armed forces, and the Airmiss inquiry group, which investigates near misses between aircraft.

It’s a fascinating book that shows that UFOs have been around for over a century and that the government and the British military don’t really know any more about them than anyone else. The aliens haven’t established secret bases in Britain, and neither to the RAF or anyone else for that matter have alien bodies stashed away in a secret hangar somewhere. The official government line, repeated over and again, is that UFOs or of ‘no defence significance’, and they really don’t want to get involved unless it’s absolutely necessary. They’ve therefore investigate UFO sightings and encounters when it affects national security, such as if the UFOs may actually be foreign planes. The last government report on the phenomenon concluded that most of them were generated by people wrongly identifying a variety of artificial objects and natural phenomena. Those that couldn’t be properly identified, were probably poorly understood meteorological phenomena, electromagnetic plasmas, which could also create hallucinations through interfering with the brains of witnesses. This part of the report was, however, attacked by scientists on its release as pseudoscience.

But very many of the UFOs reported over the years have been people mistaking a variety of normal objects and phenomena for alien craft. During the First World War, an anti-aircraft crew at an army base in Cumbria fired at what they honestly believed was a German Zeppelin. Except that an officer, arriving at the scene, reported that he saw them staring at a star. It was discovered during the Second World War that flocks of migrating birds could make radar trails very much like approaching enemy aircraft, although the airmen sent up to intercept them would find no-one except themselves up there. During the Cold War, UFO reports were generated by the Americans releasing the Mogul spy balloons from their base in Scotland, as well as later flights by spy planes like the U2 and SR-71. These were so secret, the Americans didn’t inform their NATO allies in the countries across which the planes and balloons traveled on their way to the USSR. As a result, RAF jets were scrambled to intercept these unidentified aircraft, while there was a spate of UFO reports along the German border.

Some UFO sightings were also caused by particularly spectacular fireball meteors burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere. One of these was responsible for the Berwyn mountain crash, dubbed by some ‘the Welsh Roswell’. A series of meteors were seen over England, followed by an earthquake measuring 4-5 on the Richter scale centred in Bala. It was feared that a military plane had crashed on the mountain, as several had done so previously. The RAF therefore sent up a mountain rescue squad, which found nothing and came back down again. This was subsequently inflated into stories of the RAF’s retrieval of a crashed UFO and alien bodies.

Other sightings were caused by the re-entry of Soviet spacecraft burning up in the atmosphere. This is believed to be the cause of the Rendlesham Forest incident, ‘the British Roswell’, in which a group of American squaddies from a USAF base entered the forest to encounter a triangular UFO in 1980. It seems that the Americans seen the rocket for a Soviet Cosmos spy satellite re-entering, and then the lights from a nearby lighthouse, believing they came from an alien spacecraft.

One MOD scientific/intelligence officer believed that most UFO reports could be satisfactorily explained if they had been investigated immediately they occurred, rather than sometime afterwards. Nevertheless, there are encounters that are still genuinely perplexing. Such as the report a trucker driving through Devon in the ’70s made at a local police station. He had been driving along the main road there when a craft shaped like a mushroom descended, landing on the road ahead, out of which came six short figures wearing uniforms. After gesturing at him, the creatures eventually got in their spacecraft, which lifted up into the air and flew on, leaving the trucker shaken by the experience.

And then there’s the encounter reported by a gent in Basingstoke in 1968. The fellow had been walking down by the canal one morning when a UFO descended and he was taken aboard by their occupants. They examined him, before telling the poor chap, “You can go. You are too old and infirm for our purposes.” Popular SF, which seems to have strongly influenced the content of UFO encounters, has been full of tales of evil aliens coming to other to conquer and enslaved humanity, and carry off people off for breeding purposes. It’s usually females, as in the SF B-movie Mars Needs Women, but sometimes men as in the 1949 Hammer flick, Devil Girl from Mars. This episode occurred around about the time of the Villas Boas encounter, when a Brazilian farmer of that name had been abducted by aliens and forced to have sex with a red-headed alien woman. Possibly the crew of the Basingstoke UFO also had something similar in mind. If so, both they and the poor bloke they abducted were out of luck. Or perhaps they had in mind something far more unpleasant, in which case their intended victim was lucky. The Contactees, who met peaceful aliens in the 1950s, and the abductees from the 1980s onwards, were given messages by humanity by the aliens they encountered. These tend to moralistic sermons preaching international and intergalactic brotherhood, peace, an end to nuclear weapons and concern for the environment. Sometimes they include descriptions of the aliens’ own planets and their societies. Sometimes they’re even whisked away on journeys to these distant worlds. This poor fellow didn’t get any of that, just the blunt statement that he was too old and infirm for them. He was spared the horror and humiliation of being examined and experimented upon, but their comments still seem just a tiny bit insulting. They could have put it a bit more tactfully.

My own feeling is that UFOs, when they aren’t misidentified normal objects or phenomena, are internal visionary experiences drawing on the imagery of Science Fiction, but expressing deep-seated human fears and needs. I don’t know what generates them. I think some are probably the result of poorly understood psychological states, such as sleep paralysis. But I also wonder if others are genuine encounters with something paranormal, something that in previous centuries took the form of fairies and other supernatural beings, and now takes the form of aliens and spaceships as images more suitable for our technological society.

While David Clarke’s done excellent work researching the government’s UFO archives, and has shown that very many of them have entirely rational explanations, there may still be something genuinely paranormal out there. But it didn’t want the man from Basingstoke it encountered on that day in 1968.

Pictures of Britain’s Wartime Flying Ladies and Engineers

April 5, 2020

A little while ago I put up a post about a series of books written by Captain W.E. Johns. These were naturally about the female counterpart of his great hero, Biggles, a longtime favourite of British children’s fiction. This was Worrals, a member of the ATA, the wartime aviation service, which included women that delivered new planes to the RAF. In a series of three books, Worrals and her friend Frecks became uncovered a Gestapo plot, eventually parachuting into occupied France to fight the Nazis responsible.

One of the other books I ordered from the same mail order company specialising in bargain books, was Britain in Pictures: Aviation (Lewes: Ammonite Press/Press Association 2012). This is a collection of photographs of aircraft in Britain from the very earliest flights, such as the gas balloons used by the army during the First World War, right up to today’s high performance jets and helicopters. It also includes a photograph of the Swiss aviator, Yves Rossy, who successfully crossed the Channel in 2008 on a homemade, jet propelled wing. A far less successful attempt, also reproduced in the book, was that of Frenchman Stephane Rousson, who tried to fly from Hythe in Kent to Calais in a pedal-powered airship, the Mlle. Louise. Sadly, high winds preventing him from completing his journey. But I like and admire the inventors, hobbyists and eccentrics who create new aircraft to take to the skies like the great pioneers of aviation over a century ago.

The book also contains photographs of the women of the ATA – Air Transport Auxiliary – and WAAF – the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Here are a few of them.

This one is of Pauline Mary de Peauly Gower in a de Havilland Tiger Moth trainer. She was a pilot and author, and was the head of the women’s branch of the Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War. Sadly she died in childbirth in 1947.

This one is of a group of ATA women pilots in their flying gear, ready to go to work, from 1939. The book says that they received no conversion training for new aircraft. They were simply given the machine’s handbook and expected to get on with it!

This is a photo of three of the first nine women to join the ATA – Mrs Marion Wilberforce, Miss Rosemary Rees and Mrs G. Patterson. All three of these ladies survived the War.

This photo is of two flight mechanics from the WAAF painting squadron markings on the fuselage of a Hawker Hurricane. Members of the WAAF didn’t fly, but they did perform a number of other valuable duties during the War.

It was ladies like these, who did their bit to defeat the Fascist threat. I salute them, and the women and men, who have followed them into aviation, to ‘slip the surly bonds of Earth, and touch the face of God’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cartoon – The Tories: Nightmares of the Flesh

March 23, 2020

Here’s another of my cartoons lampooning and attacking their Tories and their noxious leading members. In this case, it’s influenced by a few of the ‘body horror’ films of the 1980s – The Thing, Society and From Beyond, and one of the early ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ strips in 2000 AD, ‘Killerwatt’. Body horror is that part of the Horror genre, where the human body mutates and takes on warped, twisted forms, though I think it can also include the ‘torture porn’ subgenre, in which people are tortured and mutilated.

In The Thing, an American base in the Antarctic discovers a crashed UFO, from which an alien escaped to infect members of the base’s team and their animals. The alien replicates and hides by infecting other creatures, devouring them at a cellular level but copying their form – until it finally reveals itself by twisting itself into weird, hideous forms. As the bodies mount, and successive characters are revealed to have been infected and taken over, paranoia mounts. The horror is as much in the fear and distrust the characters have of each other, as of the grotesque appearances of the Thing itself.

From Beyond, directed by Stuart Gordon is roughly based on the short story, ‘Beyond the Wall of Sleep’ by H.P. Lovecraft. However, the film bears little resemblance to the story that inspired it. In the film, two scientists, Tillinghast and Dr. Pretorius, are using a device, the resonator, to peer into a unseen dimension surrounding our own and its denizens. Tillingast is arrested for murder after one of the creatures from that dimension then appears and bites the head off his superior, Pretorius. He takes a curious policeman and a female psychiatrist from the mental hospital in which he has been confined back to his laboratory, and set the resonator running to show them he’s telling the truth. But each time they switch on the machine, Pretorius appears, in progressively grotesque forms as it is revealed that he’s become a monster of hideous appetites. The slogan for the movie was ‘Humans are such easy prey’.

In Society, directed by Gordon’s collaborator, Brian Yuzna, the horror is mixed with social comment aimed squarely at the class system of Reagan’s America. It’s hero is a teenage lad, Bill Whitney, who finds out that he’s really adopted, and his upper class family, their friends and colleagues, are really monsters. These creatures have total control of their bodies, which they can deform and twist like rubber or plastic. They are predatory and exploitative, feeding on ordinary humans in orgies in which they melt down almost to a liquid state to feast on their victims.

It’s hard not to see this as a comment on the exploitative, predatory nature of the rich business class set free by Reagan and the Republicans.

But these films were anticipated in their horrors by 2000 AD and ‘Nemesis the Warlock’. Created by comics veterans Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill, the strip was set thousands of years in the future, when humanity had moved underground, away from the devastated surface and the planet’s name was now Termight. Ruling Termight was Torquemada, grand master of the Terminators, a quasi-monastic order, who had turned humanity’s fear of intelligent aliens into a religion and led wars of extermination against them. Opposed to him was the alien hero, Nemesis, and his resistance organisation, Credo. The character first appeared in the two ‘Comic Rock’ strips, ‘Going Underground’ and ‘Killerwatt’ in 1980, several years before the above films. In the latter story, the alien chased Torquemada down the teleport wires the grand master was using to get to his capital, Necropolis, after his train journey overland was interrupted by a gooney bird, a colossal bird creature resembling, or evolved from, the Concorde airplane. As the two raced down the wires, they had to cross the Sea of Lost Souls, a nightmare sea of neutrons and twisted bodies created when a gooney bird sat on the teleport wires.

Two panels showing the Sea of Lost Souls from ‘Killerwatt’. Art by that zarjaz master of the macabre, Kevin O’Neill.

In this cartoon, I’ve drawn a similar landscape, complete with surfers, where the denizens of the sea are Tory politicos. They are Boris Johnson, David Gauke, Dominic Cummings, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nicky Morgan and Theresa May. I hope you enjoy it, and that it doesn’t give you nightmares. Oh yes, and what you see behind them is supposed to be giant tongues, in case you thought it was anything else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worrals of the WAAF – Captain W.E. John’s Flying Heroine for Girls

March 23, 2020

Captain W.E. Johns, illustrated by Matt Kindt, Worrals of the WAAF (London: Indie Books 2013).

Captain W.E. Johns, illustrated by Matt Kindt, Worrals Carries on (London: Indie Books 2013).

Captain W.E. Johns, illustrated by Matt Kindt, Worrals Flies Again (London: Indie Books 2013).

Captain W.E. Johns was the creator of that great British hero, ‘Biggles’ Bigglesworth, an RAF fighter ace, who with his friends Algy and Ginger foiled the evil designs of the German menace in a series of tales set in the First and Second World Wars. They’re classics of British children’s literature. They appeal mostly, but by no means exclusively to boys – they’re have been plenty of female readers. Even though they’re now somewhat passe, they’re influence on British popular culture is still noticeable. In the 1980s there was an attempt to translate the character into film with an SF twist. Johns’ hero was still a World War II airman, but was sent into the present day by time warp. The character was so much a staple of British literature, that he was lampooned, I believe, by Punch’s Alan Coren in his short story, ‘Biggles Strikes Camp’. More recently, the square-jawed space pilot, ‘Ace’ Rimmer, the heroic alter ego of the cowardly, egotistical and sneering Rimmer in TV’s Red Dwarf, seems to be something of a mixture of Biggles and that other great British hero, Dan Dare, the pilot of the future.

But during the Second World War, Johns was also determined to thrill and inspire girls with a similar figure for them. And so he wrote a series of three books about Joan Worralson, ‘Worrals’, and her friend Frecks. They were pilots in the WAAF, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, which was set up to deliver aircraft to the RAF. Although not combat pilots, Worrals and Flecks soon found themselves actively fighting the Nazi menace in Britain, and then France. The books were republished in 2013 by Indie Books. There’s also some connection there with the RAF Museum, as that institution has its logo proudly printed on the back cover.

I found them in a recent catalogue for Postscript, a mail order firm specialising in bargain books. They were there, alongside serious histories of women in aviation and the WAAF. I liked the ‘Biggles’ books when I was a schoolboy, and decided to order them to see what his female counterpart was like. A decision helped by the fact that they were £2.95 each. They came shortly before the shutdown last week. I haven’t read them yet, but will probably give them a full review when I do. In the meantime, here’s the blurbs for them:

1: Worrals of the WAAF

Britain: 1940

Joan Worralson – Worrals to her many friends – is ferrying a replacement aircraft to a RAF fighter station when she is plunged into combat with a mysterious plane.

Later, she and her friend Frecks investigate what that plane was up to – and fall into a nest of spies.

With their own airfield the target for destruction, the two girls will need every ounce opf skill and daring to save the day.

2: Worrals Carries On

Britain: 1941

While Britain reels from nightly air attacks, Worrals and Frecks are stuck in the routine of delivering new planes to the RAF – until a chance discovery put them on the trail of a Nazi spy.

The hunt leads them to London at the height of the Blitz and even into occupied France. Cut could it be that the traitor is right in their midst? And ready to hand them over to the Gestapo?

3: Worrals Flies Again

1941: Occupied France

British agents are risking their lives behind enemy lines. But how to get that vital information back home?

MI6 need a pilot who speaks French like a native and with the courage to take on an operation so crazy that it might just work. A job for Worrals.

But when she and Frecks fly to the isolated French castle that is to be their base, they discover that nothing is what it seems – and the Gestapo have got there first.

Like other professions and employers, the RAF is trying to diversify its ranks and recruit more women and people of BAME backgrounds. This was shown very clearly a few months ago on the One Show, in a section where pilot and former Countdown numbers person, Carol Vorderman, herself a pilot, talked about the winners of a competition by the Air Cadets  and the RAF to find their best and most promising members. There were three, two of whom were girls, while the third was a Black lad. As a reward, they were given a tour of the vast American factory where they were building the new high performance jets that were due to come into service over this side of the Pond, and talk to some of the American Air Forces pilots. These included a young woman, who was so thrilled with flying these machines that she told them she couldn’t believe she got paid for doing it. There was also a little subtext informing the viewer that young women could still fly these deadly war machines without sacrificing their femininity. One of the girl cadets was a blogger, who specialised in makeup and beauty. And there’s also a more general drive within aviation to recruit more women as pilots, for example in civil, passenger flight.

There have clearly been for a long time women interested in flight and careers in the armed forces. I don’t know how many girls were encouraged to join the WAAF or take to the air by reading Worrals – I suspect they more likely to be influenced by the ‘Biggles’ stories. There was also an attempt to launch a comic strip which featured a group of female pilots fighting for Britain in the WAAF or RAF in the girls’ comics. This was mentioned in the excellent short BBC documentary series, Comics Britannia. However, the strip didn’t prove popular with female readers and was closed down. The comic asked them what they’d rather read instead, and they said, ‘a good cry’. This resulted in a series of strips of unrelenting misery in their comics, including ‘Child Slaves of War Orphan Farm’. I think stories about heroic female pilots sticking it to the Nazis would have been far healthier, but the girls of the time obviously didn’t want it. I don’t know if the books would have any greater success now, when writers are trying to create strong role models for girls in fiction.

I haven’t read them yet – they’re on my ‘to read’ list, along with many others. But I intend to read them eventually. I’m interested in finding out what they’re like, and how they stand up to today’s changed ideas about gender roles. And more importantly, whether they’re any fun. I look forward to finding out.

And my mother wants to read them afterwards. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flat Earth Builder of Homemade Rocket Dies in Crash

February 25, 2020

And now for something a bit different. Yesterday, 25th February 2020, the I reported the sad death of Mike Hughes. Hughes was the Flat Earther, who built his own steam-driven rocket to fly above the planet to see if it really was round. He succeeded, but as he only got a mile or so up, he couldn’t actually see the curvature of the Earth, and so remained unconvinced.

According to the paper, Hughes and two other teams were competing to launch their homemade spaceships for the show Homemade Astronauts on the American Science channel. It was when this was being filmed that the crash happened. The report, ‘Flat Earther and DIY astronaut dies after homemade rocket crashes in the desert’ by Rory Sullivan, runs

A daredevil pilot, who believed the Earth was flat has been killed after his homemade rocket crashed shortly after take-off in California.

“Mad” Mike Hughes, who hoped to prove the Earth was flat by going into space, died on Saturday near Barstow, California, after attempting to launch his steam-powered rocket for a new television  series called Homemade Astronauts on the US Science Channel.

In a statement, the Science Channel said: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends during this difficult time. It was always his dream to do this launch and Science Channel was there to chronicle his journey.”

A video of the launch, posted by a witness on Twitter, shows a parachute trailing behind the rocket immediately after take-off.

The rocket then hurtles down to earth before crashing into the desert.

San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said its officers responded to a fatal rocket crash on Saturday afternoon, but did not name the deceased.

With the help of his engineering partner Waldo Stakes, Hughes, 64, wanted to reach 5,000 feet (152.4m) in his rocket, according to the website Space.com.

The site added that the pair were one of three teams who were trying to reacdh the Karman line, which, at 62 miles above the Earth’s surface, is that by some to mark the start of space.

In a trailer filmed by the Science Channel ahead of the launch, Hughes had said: “People ask me why I do stuff like this. Basically, it’s just to convince people they can do extraordinary things with their lives.”

Hughes, with the help of his assistants, built the rocket in his garden, at a cost of around $18,000 (£14,000).

Picture accompanying the article of Hughes with his rocket.

I realise that to many people, Hughes is probably a crank, who killed himself doing something that should best be left to the big national space agencies, but to me, he’s a true-blue American hero. It’s through people like Hughes that aviation and rocketry advanced in their very early years.

Way back in the 1990s the X-Prize was launched to stimulate and encourage the private development of spaceflight. The organisation behind it observed how innovation in early airplane flight and development had been driven by private individuals competing for prizes. And this had lead to superb feats, such as the crossing of the Atlantic by men like Charles Lindbergh, ‘Wrong-Way’ Corrigan and others. They believed that the way out of the doldrums spaceflight was currently in would only come if the stranglehold of big government organisations like NASA on the area was broken by private individuals and companies competing for a similar prize. They therefore set a prize of $100,000 to be awarded to the first privately-made and launched rocket, that would ascend to space and then return. The result was a series of private aerospace companies, producing great, innovative and not always successful designs to accomplish this.

At the same time, there is, or was, a flourishing milieu of hobby rocketeers. They build and launch model rockets, sometimes in massive meets right out in the American desert. And not all of these spacecraft are small. One group set off a missile, and got very excited because their onboard video camera brought back pictures of black sky. They reached the edge of space!

I could see things going further, and so wrote an article published in Spaceflight, the popular magazine of the British Interplanetary Society, ‘This Sporting Life’, arguing that as spaceflight developed and continued to gain popularity, eventually people would turn to crewed sports rocketry. Just as people now fly microlight aircraft to enjoy some of the experienced they’d get from flying full-size aircraft, so I foresaw a leisure industry developing where people would take short pleasure hops in hobby rockets to experience some of the pleasure of being astronauts. A few years later, I published in a paper in the Society’s technical journal, the JBIS, working out the equations for such a craft.

I suggested using solid rocket motors, as they’re simpler and don’t have have the complex plumbing of liquid fuel rockets. I also selected as the propellant GALCIT – C. This is quite low energy, a bit more powerful than gunpowder but not much. Nevertheless, it would have enough power to carry a rocket carrying a single person a mile or so up. This I considered to be the best distance for a pleasure hop, rather than full-scale voyage into the stratosphere and beyond.

Mr Hughes and the other teams competing in the show aren’t quite the leisure industry I imagined, but they’re almost there. They’re amateurs, doing it for their own pleasure as well as being part of a television show.

I therefore commiserate with the Hughes’ family, friends and the other participants of the programme in his death. But believe his example will hopefully inspire many others to take up science, engineering and rocketry.

He has truly shown that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

Video of the V-9: the German Missile Against America

December 26, 2019

Hi peeps! I hope you had a great Christmas Day, and are enjoying Boxing Day.  Here’s another piece about German World War 2 aerospace technology. It’s a video from Mark Felton’s channel on YouTube about the America Rocket. Felton posts vlogs about World War II fighting machines, and in this video he describes how the rocket was designed by Werner von Braun to hit New York. It was a two-stage version of the V-2. Unlike its predecessor, however, it was to be piloted. The German guidance system couldn’t work over such a long range without beacons. The German navy tried placing these in Greenland and other places on the other side of the Atlantic, but they were quickly found and destroyed by the Allies. This left them with creating a piloted version of the missile their only option. It was not, however, a suicide weapon like the Japanese kamikaze. Just before or during its final dive, the pilot was expected to bail out and parachute to safety. Lack of funding and the turn of the War against the Nazis meant that this was fortunately never built. If it had been, not only would the Nazis have built the world’s first ICBM, but they would have been the first nation to put a man in space.

Again, I should say that while I’m impressed with the scientific and engineering expertise in the development of the V-2 and this missile, I despise its purpose. The V-2 was responsible for thousands of deaths in London, and the prospect of a missile that could hit New York is terrifying. Particularly if the Nazis had succeeded in developing nuclear weapons. And the Third Reich was, of course, a brutal dictatorship dedicated to the enslavement and extermination of millions.

After the War there was a plan by the British Interplanetary Society to adapt a captured V-2 so that it could carry a man into space. Nothing came of it, however, as when the plan was finalised the Ministry of Supply weren’t interested and the missiles and their parts were no longer available.

Book/Magazine on the Secret Warplanes of the Third Reich

December 24, 2019

Luftwaffe Secret Project Profiles, text by Dan Sharp, illustrations Daniel Uhr (Horncastle, Mortons Media 2018).

This is one of those curious magazines, which are really soft-cover book. I found this leafing through the magazine racks of W.H. Smith last Friday, along with the modelling magazine on present day spacecraft. Morton’s have published a series of books on the strange aircraft the Nazis developed during the Second World War. Desperate to snatch away the Allies’ impending victory, they encouraged German aircraft designers and engineers to produce innovative aircraft. And some of these were very weird indeed. They included rocket planes like the ME 163 and Bachem Natter, as well as bizarre planes that incorporated rotor blades around the fusilage and propellers mounted both fore and aft. This book doesn’t cover the weirder designs, but many of those it does include are very unorthodox. The Nazis had developed jet technology, the most well-known examples are the ME 262 and the pulsejet engine that powered the infamous V1 Flying bomb. As this book shows, German engineers also developed other planes incorporating both rocket and jet power.

The blurb for the magazine reads

The constantly evolving nature of the air war from 1939 to 1945 meant existing aircraft types on all sides required constant upgrades and requirements for new types were regularly passed on to aircraft manufacturers.

The German government had already put huge resources into aviation research and development before the War – resulting in significant technological progress. So when the Luftwaffe asked for new aircraft, firms such as Messerschmitt, Focke-Wulf, Heinkel and Henschel were able to draw on cutting-edge aerodynamic research in formulating their designs to meet those requirements.

Competitions were held and the firms’ designs were measured against one another and against the German government’s strict standards – and the result was further evolution and development of even the most advanced aircraft proposals.

Luftwaffe: Secret Project Profiles focuses on the jet-propelled aircraft designs of the German aircraft manufacturers during the Second World War, beautifully illustrated by aviation artist Daniel Uhr.

More than 200 high-detailed full colour profiles cover the full range of German jet ‘secret projects’ from the war years, accompanied by details of why the designs were produced and how they fared against their competitors – based on the latest archival research.

Offering a host of different colour schemes and detailed notes, this is indispensable reading for enthusiasts and modellers alike. 

After the introduction, the book has chapters on

  1. Early jet designs of Messerschmitt
  2. Messerschmitt Me 262 versions
  3. Arado Ar 234 versions
  4. Rocket fighters
  5. Interim night fighters
  6. The 1000 x 1000 x 1000 bomber. This took its name from its intended ability to fly 1,000 km at 1,000 kph carrying 1,000 kilos of bombs.
  7. Pulsejets
  8. The 1-TL-Jager, intended to replace the ME 262
  9. The Volksjager, or ‘People’s Fighter’. This would be an airplane that even untrained pilots could fly into combat.
  10. Ramjet fighters
  11. The first jet bombers

The concluding chapter is on miscellaneous jets.

The designs produced included aircraft with swept or delta wings and a single dorsal fine in the tail, like the ME 163 rocket plane. Some were also tailless, such as the plane designed by Horten. It has recently been suggested that this is what Kenneth Arnold saw when he reported a group of ‘flying saucers’ over the Rockies in 1947. It has also been suggested that the Soviets were planning to stage a fake alien landing using an adapted version of the aircraft with children surgically altered by Mengele, which just seems to me to be distasteful bullsh*t. Some of the planes had twin tails, or replaced the standard tail fin with a V-shaped arrangement, or had two dorsal fins at the end of the lateral fins. There was also a flying wing design, and a ramjet plane which would have replaced the tail with a large dorsal fin containing the cockpit. Other unusual planes were two-stage aircraft. Some of these had a rocket engine as the first stage, one of which was very like the V-2 rockets that hit London. Another design consisted of a carrier aircraft, from which another plane was launched.

Many of these radical designs never made it off the drawing board. Others seem to have resulted in a few prototypes, but never went into mass production. The stranger planes look like spacecraft from Science Fiction, or else they were what Dastardly and Muttley from the Hanna Barbara cartoons would have designed if they were set in World War II rather than World War I.

Some of these new designs influenced the development of post-War aircraft. It is no accident that one delta-winged bomber appeared a little like the later RAF Vulcan. After the War the captured aircraft designs and information were taken back to Britain and America. German research on delta-wings, which resulted in the ME 163 rocket interceptor, were used in the development of the Vulcan, and probably Concorde, because delta wings were then able to withstand extremely high speeds better than conventional wings.

This is a fascinating piece of aviation history and will, I’m sure, appeal to people with a genuine interest in the real unconventional craft the Germans were producing. But admiration with wartime German technical innovation should never obscure the fact that the Nazi era was a monstrous dictatorship that had at its heart the organised slaughter of millions.

But also looking at these planes, I also wonder what secret designs we were also producing in the same period, which have yet to be publicised.